An environmental determinant of viral respiratory disease

Title An environmental determinant of viral respiratory disease
Publication Type Unpublished
Year of Publication 2020
Authors Choi, Y.-W., Tuel, A. & Eltahir, E. A. B.

The evident seasonality of influenza suggests a significant role for weather and climate as one of several determinants of viral respiratory disease (VRD), including social determinants which play a major role in shaping these phenomena. Based on the current mechanistic understanding of how VRDs are transmitted by small droplets, we identify an environmental variable, Air Drying Capacity (ADC), as an atmospheric state-variable with significant and direct relevance to the transmission of VRD. ADC dictates the evolution and fate of droplets under given temperature and humidity conditions. The definition of this variable is rooted in the Maxwell theory of droplet evolution via coupled heat and mass transfer between droplets and the surrounding environment. We present the climatology of ADC, and compare its observed distribution in space and time to the observed prevalence of influenza and COVID-19 from extensive global data sets. Globally, large ADC values appear to significantly constrain the observed transmission and spread of VRD, consistent with the significant coherency of the observed seasonal cycles of ADC and influenza. Our results introduce a new environmental determinant, rooted in the mechanism of VRD transmission, with potential implications for explaining seasonality of influenza, and for describing how environmental conditions may impact to some degree the evolution of similar VRDs, such as COVID-19.

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